Tuesday, May 3, 2005

BEIJING — China yesterday offered a pair of giant pandas and concessions on tourism and fruit imports as a gesture of friendship to the people of Taiwan, but it rejected an invitation from the island’s leader for President Hu Jintao to visit.

The communist government said no official contacts could be made until Taiwan’s governing party drops a clause from its official platform calling for formal independence.

The conflicting moves came as Taiwan’s opposition leader ended a groundbreaking visit to the mainland. They reflected Beijing’s unwavering intention of getting back the self-ruled island that broke away in 1949 during China’s civil war.

“We have no exchanges with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) because its party constitution advocates the separation of Taiwan from the motherland,” Wang Zaixi, a spokesman for the ruling Communist Party’s Taiwan Work Office, told reporters.

Mr. Wang said the party of Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), first must endorse a 1992 declaration that the self-ruled island and the mainland are “one China” and “drop the independence clause from its [platform].”

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Chen said he would welcome Mr. Hu for a visit to Taiwan. Although the invitation appeared to be a conciliatory move, Mr. Chen remained steadfast in his pro-independence stance.

“I hope [Mr. Hu] can come to see for himself whether Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country and what our 23 million people have in mind,” Mr. Chen said to Taiwanese reporters during a visit to Kiribati, a small Pacific ally of Taiwan.

After an eight-day visit, Lien Chan, head of Taiwan’s opposition Nationalist Party, returned home yesterday, calling his trip a “journey of peace.” It was the highest-level contact between the two sides since the Nationalists fled to Taiwan after the 1949 Communist conquest of the mainland.

The visit “finished very happily, smoothly and successfully,” Mr. Lien told reporters before flying out of Shanghai.

China’s decision to grant two pandas to “compatriots of Taiwan” was announced by Chen Yunlin, director of the Communist Party’s Taiwan Work Office, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The offer of the giant pandas was widely expected in Taiwan, but some Taiwanese officials reacted with caution. A similar gesture by Beijing years ago was refused because Taipei feared it was part of a plot to foster unification.

The ruling DPP’s greatest fears China will insist that Taiwan accept the pandas as a local Chinese government rather than as a self-governing entity.

“If we accept the pandas, that means we’re admitting ourselves we’re a local government,” said DPP lawmaker Hsu Kuo-yung. “Our lovely next generation is more important than these two lovely animals.”

China’s leaders have used the giant panda, a species native to the country’s mountainous western regions, to win friends and influence allies as far back as 1941, when Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the wife of China’s Nationalist president, gave two pandas to the Bronx Zoo.

The most famous instance of panda diplomacy came in April 1972, when China’s Communist leaders presented Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling to President Nixon and Washington’s National Zoo to mark a thaw in Sino-U.S. relations.

The giant panda is considered an endangered species, and China stopped using pandas as a diplomatic tool in 1984.

• Staff writer David R. Sands contributed to this article.

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